LOS ANGELES -- The key to the Los Angeles Dodgers' victory on Friday night, 3-2 over the Washington Nationals before 44,807 at Dodger Stadium, was the performance of Clayton Kershaw, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner who gave the team eight dominating and, desperately needed, innings on an evening when the bullpen was not only short a reliever but short a closer.
The most intriguing subplot, though, involved Kenley Jansen, the eighth-inning setup man who was forced into ninth-inning duty with Javy Guerra still sidelined from getting hit in the jaw with a line drive on Wednesday night.
First, the look-ahead: Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said after the game that Guerra should be ready to go for Saturday night, so that crisis has passed.
Now, the look back: a quick check of the stats while Jansen was warming up in the bullpen in the bottom of the eighth inning showed that over the course of his major league career -- which only dates back a couple of years, but it's a big-enough sample size that it's hard to ignore -- he had an ERA of a 0.49 in the eighth inning, 6.23 in the ninth.
And, on the only previous occasion this season in which he was called upon to close out a game in the ninth -- on April 13 against San Diego, when Guerra was off-limits because he had pitched three days in a row -- Jansen had blown a two-run lead, only to have the Dodgers score in the bottom of the ninth to win it.
And so, from the outside, it would seem that Jansen cleared something of a hurdle when he was able to polish this one off without incident -- unless you count the batter he hit with two outs or the foul ball Danny Espinosa hit into the front row up the rightfield line, no more than a foot to the right of the pole, as incidents.
From Jansen's vantage point, it didn't really seem that way at all.
"I don't think it's a problem,'' Jansen said. "You just have to keep your focus. Not every night is going to be a good outing. It's what you deal with in this game. You just have to get through it and not let stuff bother you.''
In fairness, while it was Jansen's first save of the year, it was his 10th save in the majors. He has proven in the past that he can do it. That was never a question. But there still is that glaring discrepancy in his eighth-inning and ninth-inning numbers, and there is the fact he relies almost exclusively on his fastball, which is mildly troubling even if his fastball tends to be virtually unhittable.
Is he a future closer? Quite possibly. There still are some wrinkles to iron out, but there should be plenty of time for that, especially if Guerra can reclaim his form after taking the loss each of his past two appearances -- although one of those came after that line drive-jaw collision that Mattingly said in hindsight should have resulted in Guerra coming out of that game instead of staying in and blowing the save.
For one night, though, it all worked out -- thanks largely to Kershaw, who was allowed to go 113 pitches to get the ball to Jansen. Josh Lindblom was warming up throughout the top of the eighth, meaning that if anyone had gotten on base, Mattingly likely would have yanked Kershaw. But Kershaw seemed to get stronger as he went along, retiring the final nine batters he faced after his lone stumble, a leadoff walk to Jayson Werth in the sixth followed by a two-run homer, the first one Kershaw has given up this year, by Adam LaRoche.
The Dodgers (14-6), who pulled even with the Nationals for the best record in the N.L. and stretched their lead in the West to 3 1/2 games over the second-place Colorado Rockies, needed this win, not only to shake off the hangover from back-to-back, ninth-inning losses to the Atlanta Braves but to assure themselves of avoiding a three-game sweep by the Nationals with aces Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez waiting in the wings.
Thanks to Kershaw, Jansen and Andre Ethier, who gave them a rare, two-run homer off a left-hander, they got it. See ya tomorrow.